The orphanage itself was falling apart, and by the time Edmund was six it was no better. It tended to sway in strong winds, and the ceiling would creak with effort when the dark snows of winter heaped themselves on the small roof. The faded wooden slats on the outside were rotting and warped. They clattered loudly in the breeze, keeping the children awake at night; or leaked in the winter, letting the dark rains drip inside and blanket the small beds with gray frost.
The inside of the orphanage was just as decrepit, with chunks of decaying plaster falling from the walls throughout the day like dying leaves. The children often had to flick large bits of white out of their food or off of their clothes. In the worst places the walls looked like a moth-eaten sweater, with large support beams and rafters sticking out like whalebone through the holes.
The floorboards were full of termites and wood-weevils, and would crack and creak quite loudly. Some of the nails had long since rusted away as well, and the floors rocked and twisted whenever a child stepped on them. When a large group of children ran from one room to another, the cacophony of creakings, bangings, and cries of pain as the children stumbled on the shifting floors was almost deafening.
Late at night, with the muddy darkness settling over the house, some of the children would share their dreams of large homes with five floors, fifty windows, and a set of wealthy parents and uncles and aunts and cousins who would feed them real roast chicken or duck.
Edmund never quite understood their aspirations. He had gotten used to picking plaster out of his food, and if the orphanage had been five floors high, he’d be worried about people falling through the rotting floors above and onto him while he slept.
Despite being the only house on Downs Hill, the Home for Wayward Lads and Ladies was enclosed by a thick oak fence. The small yard held only a single frail tree that rose from the middle of the yard like a sick flower. There was barely enough space for thirty children to run and play, and there were more than twice that living in the orphanage. Edmund had counted.
Mrs. Mapleberry seemed to not notice the decrepit nature of the building. Plaster could be picked out, bruises would heal, and the children had blankets, didn’t they? She would hear no complaining in her orphanage, and all of the children were of course grateful that they had a roof over their heads at all, weren’t they?
They were, and nothing in the Home for Wayward Lads and Ladies ever improved.